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Ancient European History 3500 BCE

The Coming of Farming

Farming had arrived in south east Europe from the Middle East c. 6500 BCE. From there it had spread in two directions, northwards, into the Balkans and westward along the Mediterranean coasts and islands.

Farming seems to have spread into Europe at just over 1 km (0.8 miles) a year, on average. In many places, this process occurred much more slowly. As farming spread northwards, techniques had to be adapted to cooler and wetter climates. New strains of cereal had to be developed to cope with harsher conditions, and cattle and pigs became more prominent in livestock.

Central Europe

In central Europe, in c. 5500 BCE, there developed a new farming culture, whose distinctive features were massive timber-built longhouses and pottery decorated with incised bands – hence the archaeological name for it, the Bandkeramik culture.

Note the imitation of painted bands by incising the edges of the band.
Stroked Ware is shown in the upper left corner.
Reproduced under GPL license

Settlements were sited in forest clearings, and were made up of two or three longhouses each. They farmed the easily-tilled soil of the river valleys, growing crops of cereals, peas and beans. Their cattle and pigs were pastured on the forest margins, and in the forests wild game and plants were available. These settlements lasted for several generations.

This culture spread comparatively swiftly along the river valleys and within a few hundred years came to cover a large area of central Europe, from eastern France to the Ukraine. By 5000 BCE it was fragmenting into more localized cultures, as different settlement patterns emerged and varying styles of pottery evolved. Its offshoots penetrated southern Scandinavia and Russia in the 5th millennium BCE, but here the poor soil and harsh climate delayed the onset of a full agricultural transition for several centuries, and communities continued to sustain themselves by a mix of hunting, foraging, fishing, herding and crop growing.

The Mediterranean

Meanwhile, agriculture had spread right across the Mediterranean from east to west. This may have been the achievement of generations of small groups of farmers, using small boats to colonize new areas, establishing new settlements in suitable places along the coasts. The fact that their material culture changed significantly during this process probably means that this was accomplished in small hops, rather than in a few long journeys. From the coastal enclaves thus settled, farming communities gradually spread inland in Italy, southern France and the Iberian Peninsula.

The Atlantic cultures

In what may well have been an extension of this trans-Mediterranean movement, a new farming culture, originating in what is now southern Spain and Portugal c. 5500 BCE, had spread up western France and into the British Isles by c. 5000 BCE. This culture – or, rather, group of inter-linked cultures, was centered on the Atlantic coast, in all probability carried northwards by seaborne colonists establishing themselves in sites along the coast. There is evidence that, for some time, these new farming communities co-existed with societies of hunter-gatherer-fishermen. The latter may well have been able to form larger and more stable settlements than the usual hunter-gatherer bands, through being able to harvest coastal marine resources as well as land-based plants and animals. This may have enabled them to resist the encroachments of farmers longer.

The distinctive feature of the new Atlantic farming culture, from an archaeologist’s point of view, was the construction of megaliths – stone-built communal burial chambers in Spain and France, large stone circles or avenues in Brittany and southern Britain.

Expansion and development

The farmers of the Atlantic culture spread eastward into France to meet up with the farming cultures from central Europe around 4500 BCE. The whole of Europe except the far north was now dotted with farming villages. Some time during the 5th millennium BCE, the plow spread throughout the European farming zone. This enabled lands with heavier soils to be brought under cultivation, and for the fertility of the soil to be maintained better.

Farming villages became larger and more stable. By 4000 BCE, domestic animals were being used as a source of milk. Some metal was used, and there were considerable copper mines and copper smelting centers, especially in the Balkans. Metal, however, was mainly used for display. Copper was sometimes used for axes, knives and hammers, but these were generally no more efficient than stone tools, and a great deal more expensive to produce. Gold and copper mostly appeared in jewelry and prestige objects.

Emerging elites

Display, however, was becoming more important at this time. In much of Europe, the farming economy had developed to the stage where elites were beginning to emerge. This is seen in increasingly elaborate burials, in which quantities of prestige goods such as metal jewelry and polished stone axes were buried alongside some individuals – a tell-tale sign that high-status leaders were beginning to dominate society.

Linked to this is the appearance of earthen circles, sometimes in several concentric rings, topped by high timber palisades. Originally thought to be for defense purposes, scholars now prefer to see them as ritual centers, possibly serving communities from a wide area. They are particularly common in more northerly areas, and the earliest version of Stonehenge dates to around this time.

Stonehenge is one of the world’s best known megalithic structures.
Taken in 2009 By David Ball – www.davidball.net”


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